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The Black Youth Manifesto Part 1

Last week I wrote a post that received a lot of traction. If you missed it, I basically called out a middle-aged White guy for not recognizing his privilege when writing recommendations on how young, poor Black kids can move themselves from the societal margins into the center of American civic life. However, what I failed to do, which might be even more egregious, was talk about my own privilege. Over the next few weeks I will be writing what I believe are the focal points for the advancement of young people of color. Each week I will focus on a different issue that I believe can radically transform the lives of young folks of color who feel disenfranchised by their communities and the respective institutions that they interact with on a regular basis.

Throughout my childhood I had a lot privileges,some of which I took for granted, others that I valued later on in life. Nevertheless, I recognize not only my material privileges, but the societal benefits I receive solely by being a heterosexual man with a college degree. Far too often, even for us who come from historically marginalized communities, we fail to recognize the advantages we receive or the discrimination we avoid by living in a heteronormative, patriarchal society. While I’m not minimizing the suffering that straight men of color or any background have endured, I understood the words of Zora Neale Hurston when she said, “black women are the mules of society”. Similarly, I understand that my LBTQ brothers and sisters have had no easy time realizing full citizenship in the United States of America.

Although the United States, like many other industrialized and even developing nations, is an imperfect union; I must admit, we have come a long way. Yet and still, we must not acquiesce until every living, breathing, human specimen in this flawed, yet great nation has equal opportunity to become a full citizen. By full citizenship, I simply mean the ability for an individual to enjoy full protection by the state without having certain rights stripped and mitigated because of prejudice. I also believe that full citizenship goes beyond saying, “you have the same rights as me”, because black Americans have had many of  “the same” dejure rights as white people since 1868 when the Supreme Court overruled the Dred Scot v. Sanford decision and adopted the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

In order to truly ensure that the United States is a country where any individual can grow, thrive, and live a prosperous life we must radically transform the lives of the most vulnerable segments of our society- youth of color. Every chain is only as strong as its’ weakest link. According to data on unemployment, eduction, health, and incarceration young people of color are under attack. They are under attack by the state, the media, and their own communities.

Yes, we have more Black faces in high places (corporate America, politics, academia etc.) than ever before, but only 13% of Black youth believe that Blacks in the U.S. have achieved racial equality. Black President or not; Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Andrew Breitbart’s high-profile character assassination of Black folks is a glowing example of the uphill battle that people of color face in this country. Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s suggestion that a remedy for urban poverty is through exploiting the labor of poor, minority children is reprehensible. If that isn’t enough: how about the fact that black youth still suffer from lower rates of high school graduation and higher rates of incarceration, AIDS and unemployment compared to white youth?

While I admit that I surely don’t have all the answers to society’s problems, especially the ones that deal with young people of color, I can confidently say that living 22 years as black man in America has given me a unique perspective on social progress. In particular my upbringing was full of many focal points that contradicted each other. I was reared in a conservative and segregated southern city by black activist parents. From 3rd-12th grades I attended an elite gifted school where I was the only black male  and 1 of 4 black people in my graduating class. Because my school didn’t have sports, I was forced to play at my districted school which was in the same working class black community that I spent the early part of my childhood growing up in. After high school I attended another elite, predominately white institution. This time I was in the epicentre of progressive, Black politics- Chicago. If that is not contradictory enough, the person who ended becoming my mentor was a radical, lesbian, feminist scholar who was so unlike any professor at the University of Chicago that her reputation truly preceded her.

I am thankful for all of the many experiences and people who helped shape me and develop the consciousness that I have today. To honor all of the people who paved the way for me to understand and advocate for a better tomorrow, I am drafting a manifesto for children of color, educators, legislators, concerned citizens, or anyone who is concerned about protecting and improving the lives of young people of color.The points that I will lay out in the next sections are far from concrete, there are many layers of complexity and fluidity to each issue I will address. Moreover, this is by no means an exhaustive list. However, I believe that the list is a great starting point to address and in time radically transform the landscape for which young people of color and all Americans inhabit.

Next week I will focus on curbing youth violence in communities of color. I’ve heard many older black folks say, “the problem starts at home”, without following the retort up with anything more than shaking their head in disgust. To address a huge problem like youth violence on  a micro-level we need to do more than just blame parents and school systems.

Feel free to have a conversation with me about this post or any other post via Twitter @edwardelliot